Gina's Lady Chimney Sweep
PUBLISHED: 11:17 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 20 February 2013
In Victorian times if a well-presented woman turned up to sweep your dirty chimney you would have spluttered as much as the offending flue. Nowadays things are different...
In Victorian times if a well-presented woman turned up to sweep your dirty chimney you would have spluttered as much as the offending flue. Nowadays things are different. Liane Oldham meets one woman who doesnt mind rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty
GINA Hazelden has been sweeping chimneys across Sussex for 14 years. Originally from Germany, she came over to England shortly after the Berlin Wall went up. Not shy of physical work she often helped her husband out with his timber business until she entered a new and dustier world of chimney sweeping. Once we had our chimney swept and it took me all day to clear up the mess, she says. I love physical work and I kept thinking I could do a job like that better. We had a family member involved in the sweeping business so it wasnt totally out of character. I started doing it mainly for friends and family, the word spread and the business grew from there.
Gina is now busier than ever and she is just about to start training a second lady sweep. But has she ever crossed brushes with any good old male prejudices? My husband has always been very encouraging, she adds. I did get my fair share of stick in the early days from guys who felt I wouldnt be able to do the job properly but that didnt last for long. Generally people are very supportive, intrigued even by what I like about it.
And there is much more to Ginas job than merely sticking a brush up the chimney. First she analyses the chimney to see how much resin has built up. The resin is the sticky substance that sticks to the sides and can cause house fires. She ensures all pots are sound, seals the front of the fireplace so no mess can escape and then decides on the correctly fitting brush and right size rod for the chimney in question. Whats needed for a huge inglenook will be completely different from an Aga flue.
Its the unexpected social and varied sides of sweeping that Gina enjoys most. Every house, owner and chimney is different, says Gina, who is based in Sutton, West Sussex. You have the quaint cottages with enormous chimneys, modern houses with nice easy terracotta flues and the large country houses with huge inglenook fireplaces. One house I did was used for evacuees during the war and when I pushed the brushes up hundreds of little handwritten notes fluttered down, saying Miss You Mummy and Daddy.
I especially like going to somewhere thats in the process of being totally gutted and then seeing how it has transformed the next time I call.
One house had a false wall knocked down to expose the most wonderful old inglenook fireplace still complete with the old padded seats. It was like it had been suspended in time, wonderful to see, let alone sweep.
Ive met some really interesting, lovely people and the degree of trust and loyalty is very rewarding. I really do love my job.
- Have your chimney swept at least once if not twice a year, spring and autumn.
- Never burn pine and try to avoid chucking plastic bottles on the fire.
- Ensure the basket is in line with the flue and not too far forward or back. If no basket is used keep a good bed of ash.
- Ensure bird guards are fitted over chimney pots to avoid jackdaws nesting.
- Thatched cottages should have spark guards fitted.
- Dont forget Aga flues need sweeping also.
- Contact the National Association of Chimney Sweeps and make sure you see a Certificate. Important for house insurance.